Long and Short Review
Let There Be Light by Nick Courtright
Gold Wake Press, 2014; 114 pp
Reviewed by Paul French
I’ve done injustice to this book long enough. While going unacknowledged in AMRI, it was every day bricked in the stack of books I keep on my desk—books not for review or pleasure, but the ones that help me write.
I am proud to say that this 2014 book has been a companion for my own composition for the last five months. It’s one of those opiate collections that just makes you want to write. And, as with songs that make you want to sing, this is the highest praise for poetry I can think of.
Easy on the tongue and philosophical sans density, Courtright’s poems are of a soft potency, reading like daydreams that wake to profound insight. They use this breezy tone that is somehow grand and relatable at the same time (I can think of Joshua Poteat’s work as another example of this)—this language that serves to divert the reader’s mind while, as Eliot said, “the poem does its work upon him.”
“When I say you are enormous, I mean you are the tree.
“On the path, dogs have come
and gone, their tails whipping like emeralds
tossed in the time after money.
The dogs lay beneath the leaves, eating oranges.”
- From Citrus
Let There Be Light is organized by a conceit of backward creation. It begins with consummate Earth, the biblical Seventh Day, and then backpedals toward the primordial abyss where creation allegedly began (the final section of the book consists of four black pages).
I should point out here that this is not a Christian book; nor is it necessarily a secular book. Courtright is able to in/evoke spirituality without frocking his verse as votary. This spirituality is the nebulous, postmodern variety—seeking to affirm a extra-power without giving that power a name or a beard. In Courtright’s poems, as in a lot of contemporary poetry, there’s much mention of “ghosts”:
“All the imagination you’ve exhausted on the thought
that those in heaven are not ghosts
has brought you no closer to understanding.”
- From “The Afterlife”
The image of the ghost is a paradox of both spiritual presence and spiritual void: the proof of afterlife, the doubt of ascension. Toward the end of the book, Courtright reveals that the tension and pain of his speaker are not without an argument for beauty. In the final long poem, “The Big Bang,” the speaker celebrates the spectrum of presence and absence that the seven days encapsulate by creating a heightened awareness of each—a positive awareness, one that is invested in both life and death, one that, like God, can create something from nothing by simply uttering the word, “it.”
I highly recommend this book. There are many poets who might try these heavy themes, but there are few who are able to pull them off with any lyrical finesse. These poems are wonderful whether aloud, in your head, or on the page.
- Nick Courtright’s Let There Be Light is awesome.
- Go read Nick Courtright’s Let There Be Light.